CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The High Point Rockers scored five times in the first two innings and rookie starter Nick Evangelista pitched five solid innings as the Rockers won their fifth straight game on Tuesday with a 7-4 win over Charleston at Appalachian Power Park.
The win moves the Rockers to 35-25 on the season with six games remaining. Gastonia, at 41-18, has clinched the South Division playoff spot. The Rockers can secure a tie for first by winning their final six games and having Gastonia lose its final seven, but Gastonia owns the head-to-head tiebreaker and will advance to the playoffs as the first half South champion.
Evangelista (W, 1-1), the rookie who was pitching for Fairleigh Dickinson University just a few short weeks ago, received plenty of support in his second professional start. With one out in the top of the first, Ben Aklinski singled and scored on a home run by Jerry Downs, his ninth of the season. After Zander Wiel grounded out, Logan Morrison added his sixth homer of the year to put High Point up 3-0.
Evangelista yielded a pair of singles in the first but escaped unharmed thanks to a 6-4-3 double play. In the top of the second, Giovanny Alfonzo drew a one out walk before Aklinski hit his 11th homer of the year to put High Point up 5-0.
Charleston got on the board with three runs in the bottom of the fourth. Evangelista issued a pair of walks and a fielder’s choice to load the bases with one out. Yovan Gonzalez was hit by a pitch to force home one run before Corey Bird drove in two more with a single.
High Point extended its lead to 6-3 when Downs doubled in the seventh to score Alfonzo who had walked. It was a 7-3 Rocker lead after Zander Wiel reached on an error in the eighth and eventually scored on a Tyler Ladendorf ground out. The Dirty Birds matched that run in the bottom of the eighth off reliever Bryce Hensley when Diego Goris and scored on a Rocker infield error.
Evangelista earned his first professional win with 5.2 innings of work, allowing seven hits and three runs while walking two and striking out four. Ryan Dull allowed a pair of hits in the ninth but threw a shutout inning to earn his third save of the season.
The Rockers and Dirty Birds will meet again on Wednesday at 6:35 at Appalachian Power Park in the second game of the three-game series.